HMS Ajax & River Plate Veterans Association


FAQ 40

What happened to the three Royal Navy ships after the battle?


HMS Ajax returned to Britain at the end of January 1940 for a refit and was recommissioned in July 1940.


She spent most of the rest of the Second World War in the Mediterranean where she saw much action and was also involved in the D-Day landings.


Following the war she was paid off on 16 February 1948 at Chatham and preparations were made for her sale to Chile.  This was blocked by Churchill who thought her memory would be better served if she were scrapped.


In November 1949 she was towed to Newport and dismantled by John Cashmore Ltd.


The name Ajax lived on when the Frigate HMS Ajax was launched in 1963 and served until 1985 when she became a training ship. She was finally broken-up in 1988.


HMS Ajax has also been proposed for the name of the 7th Astute class nuclear-powered submarine of the Royal Navy. If the order is confirmed, she will be the ninth vessel of the Royal Navy to bear the name, Ajax, named after the Greek hero.


HMS Achilles was a Royal Navy ship manned with RN Officers and a largely New Zealand ship’s company. With the formation of the Royal New Zealand Navy in 1941 she became HMNZS Achilles.


She transferred to the Indian Navy as INS Delhi after the war as flagship of her former Captain, now Admiral, Parry. She played herself in the 1956 film, “Battle of the River Plate”.


HMS Exeter made her way to Port Stanley and in preparation for the journey home, Exeter’s crew plugged and patched holes using locally-sourced steel from SS great Britain and local sheds also using old pieces of railway to reinforce damaged bulkheads.  


They rigged jury aerials, repaired equipment and made the ship ready for sea. ‘Y’-turret was put into working order and all ammunition transferred to it while the non-working forward turrets were man-handled into fore and aft positions.  


There was a rumour that Exeter would be abandoned as a rusting hulk alongside the iron steamship Great Britain but, as he wrote later, Winston Churchill, ‘Was most anxious about the Exeter, and would not accept proposals made to leave her unrepaired in the Falkland Islands till the end of the war’.


On 21 January 1940, leaving behind her wounded, Exeter began her long voyage home, first escorted by the cruisers HMS Dorsetshire and Shropshire, then by Force H and then by nine destroyers.


On 15 February, to an enormous welcome, Exeter sailed into Devonport, past cheering crowds of people, past the men who built her, banging their hammers and dipping their cranes in salute. There, they were given a triumphal welcome by Churchill and the Admiralty Board.


Winston Churchill had come to, “Pay my tribute to her brave officers and men from her shattered deck in Plymouth harbour”.


In February 1942, during the Battle of the Java Sea off Bawean Island, HMS Exeter was sunk by the Japanese.  53 crew members were killed and a further 156 were to die in captivity in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps.